Five Ways to Avoid ‘Bad-News Fatigue’ and Stay Compassionately Engaged

by Shannon Sexton

Like many people in the yoga community, I want to take a stand against violence, injustice, and divisive rhetoric in the world. But I’m ashamed to admit that, lately, I’ve got bad-news fatigue.

According to longtime activist and yoga teacher Seane Corn, I’m not alone. “Most people just keep taking in more and more information, until they feel overwhelmed,” Seane says. “Their nervous systems become deregulated, and they start to shut down or feel sick.” But the less we’re engaged with what’s going on in the world, she points out—the less we’re paying attention, protesting, and advocating—the more fear, violence, and injustice reign.

I asked a couple of yoga-practicing activists how we can stay compassionately engaged—while reading the news, bearing witness to injustice, taking a stand on issues that matter—yet still take care of ourselves, so that we have the strength and the courage to make a difference long-term.

Transform your inner world.

Kundalini Yoga teacher Guru Jagat, author of the book Invincible Living and the founder of RA MA Institute for Applied Yogic Science and Technology, says, “To me, the new activism is about doing practices that help you touch that eternal space of peace and happiness in yourself, which you then take out to the world.”

She says she does her yoga, meditation, and pranayama practices every morning so that she can make herself “strong enough to engage with the world from as high of a level” as she can, “with as much energy and generosity” as she can. “The whole reason we do spiritual practices is to cultivate enough energy to become the trailblazers and thought leaders that the world needs now,” she says.

Reframe your perspective.

When we watch the news or scroll through our social media feeds, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all of the violence, injustice, and hateful rhetoric in the world. But the way Guru Jagat sees it, “there’s only a small minority of people on this planet who want the majority of the population to be in fear.” She says it’s important to remember that “the majority of people want peace. They want schools and families and economies that work for everyone. They want harmonious nation-states.” When you find yourself getting overwhelmed or afraid, try looking at the world through this positive lens.

Guru Jagat also suggests cultivating the ability to look at one topic, conflict, or situation from multiple perspectives. For example, explore content on one particular issue that has been published by different political groups, different news outlets, different experts, and/or different witnesses or citizens. Consider each perspective (including those that you’re averse to), and start to suss out the true story. Share that.

Take time for self-care.

According to Seane, self-care is critical for anyone who wants to stay consciously engaged. She says, “I can get easily upset and triggered when I’m hearing rhetoric that is divisive, separatist, racist, sexist, or xenophobic. If I get triggered, I will get reactive. And when I’m reactive, my choices are motivated by anger and fear. Over time, that can lead to burnout and apathy, which contributes to more dis-ease. That doesn’t serve this planet in its healing, or push the needle towards peace.”

So make sure that you’re nourishing yourself—body, mind, and spirit—through wellness and contemplative practices that fuel and inspire you.

Identify and release your emotions.

The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by the news or your work as an activist, tune into your body, says Seane. Is your jaw tight? Breath shallow? Do you feel like there’s a boulder in your stomach? Use your body’s signs of stress to help identify what you’re feeling.

As Seane observes, “Usually we experience the most relief when we uncover our underlying grief. Once we can clear the grief, there’s usually space for other emotions, like compassion.”

She recommends finding ways to “rinse” yourself on a daily basis of the negative feelings that come up, so you can engage with the world from a calmer, clearer state of mind. (For more information on “rinsing,” Seane suggests Invisible Warfare, by Mona Miller.) Write in your journal, cry, rage, scream, talk to someone—or do yoga. “When we get overwhelmed by what’s happening in the world, we go into fight-or-flight mode,” Seane says. “Our muscles contract, and although that tension may make us feel safer, it also makes us more reactive. By practicing yoga, you create space for the emotion that is suppressed within your tissues to rise up to the surface and be released.”

Connect to your bigger purpose.

Whenever you notice that you’re on the edge of burnout, connect to your bigger purpose, says Seane. “The reason I stay engaged in the world around me is because all of us, in our own unique way, are either contributing to love or contributing to fear. It becomes a part of our purpose.”

Here’s a bigger purpose to contemplate: “We are all here to learn what love is, to be in service to that love, and to activate peace in all that we do, say, and create,” Seane says. If you’re serving something bigger than yourself, you feel more humble, more connected. In her words, you realize you’re one of “many, many light workers in the world.”

Find out about upcoming programs at Kripalu with Seane Corn and Guru Jagat.

Shannon Sexton is the former editor-in-chief of Yoga International magazine and a freelance writer, editor, and strategist.

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